After leaving Suez, we had some calm days in the Northern Red Sea. Around noon on 10th July we spotted the skyscrapers of Jeddah, a city of 4 million, as they slowly appeared from beyond the horizon. One of them is the construction site of the largest tower in the world(-to-be).
In the afternoon our vessel moored in the port of Jeddah (or to be exact The Islamic Port of Jeddah which is its official name as this the place is where pilgrims set off to Makkah (Mecca)). On the same evening we, the scientific crew, boarded a bus that took us to the Immigration Terminal from which we formally entered the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It then took us ca. one and a half hours to get to the campus of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Thuwal (KAUST). The trip gave us a glimpse of the country. First: the city with its oddly assorted, sometimes only halfway finished buildings, and luxury shops. Then the road through the desert; besides some shrubs (we were still close to the coast!), there was only red dusty sand. Of course, you would never see a woman in the driver`s seat of a car. The rare women to be seen in public wore black abayas. Saudi law requires women to wear this sort of robe in public. Therefore, the few females amongst us got dressed up for the occasion of leaving the ship:
Upon entering the premises of KAUST, we were allowed to take them off, which we gladly did because at 40 °C air temperature it got quite hot especially under the headscarf. In KAUST women are also permitted to drive cars. An American resident of the campus told me that delivery drivers from outside KAUST sometimes almost get a heart attack when they see a female behing the steering-wheel!
Well, what should one write about KAUST? Finding words for this place is not easy. It is obvious that lack of money is not a problem there. To the contrary, KAUST is supposed to be the among richest universities in the world. It is a large campus university with some 7000 inhabitants. The campus reminded me of a gated, luxury resort with its golf course, yacht harbor and villas. Just to give one example of its wealth: The Blue Mosque, which is the center of the KAUST premises, is built of (blue) Italian marble for which a whole island in Italy was bought and excavated. If you are now wondering what the tuition fees are for a place like this: as far as I understood: studying here is free and includes rent-free housing. However, KAUST has less than 2000 students. The people living in all those villas on campus are scientists and administration workers.
Scientists of course never just visit a place just for fun; there always has to be some scientific gain! 😉 A common AQABA workshop was held by cruise participants and our host: Prof. Georgiy Stenchikov. We also got to visit some of the laboratories of the university. There, similar to the rest of the campus, it became obvious that nobody there has to worry about funding at all.
After two nights in the luxurious KAUST Inn we were transported back to our good old ship. Crossing the gangway and being welcomed by wonderful Captain Pavel and his amazing crew felt like coming home. 🙂